Concert review: Who is this Noah Kahan and how did he sell out two nights at Xcel Energy Center?

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Singer/songwriter Noah Kahan opened his sold-out, two-night stand at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on Friday in front of a gleeful crowd of more than 14,000 fans who sang and/or swayed to every song in his set.

Who is Noah Kahan, you may ask. Good question. The Vermont native — that’s key, as being from Vermont is a big part of his persona — signed a record deal at the age of 20, scored a minor hit with 2017’s “Hurt Somebody” and then watched his first two indie pop/folk albums go nowhere.

During the pandemic, he returned to his hometown and wrote what would become his breakthrough hit and album of the same name, “Stick Season.” He doubled down on his commitment to address his severe anxiety and depression in the lyrics and spent two years teasing “Stick Season” (the song) on TikTok. In 2022, he released the single — which refers to the “super depressing” time in New England between Halloween and the first winter snow — and watched it become a worldwide hit. (You’ve probably heard it at the grocery store and it’s all but certain to be used in Subaru commercials and movie trailers for years to come.)

Even though there is an endless supply of overly earnest singer/songwriters looking to become the next big thing, I couldn’t help but wonder why Kahan was the one to make it. His performance Friday gave a few clues, I suppose.

With his braided hair, baggy jacket and white mom jeans, Kahan doesn’t look like your typical teen idol. (And it was TikTok-loving teens and college kids who filled the crowd.) He’s also got a cheery, goofy stage presence that suggests he’s not taking all this too seriously, even though it’s clear he is. At times, he came across as a particularly outgoing youth pastor who just washed down a Snickers Hi Energy bar with a Red Bull.

While Kahan sold “Stick Season” as more of an intimate, folky bedroom album, the songs easily transformed into arena anthems with big hooks and plenty of “oohs” to sing along with. Hearing his recent singles “Dial Drunk” and “Everywhere, Everything” early in his set made it clear he’s going for a Mumford and Sons/Lumineers vibe, with a serious nod to U2/Coldplay on the side.

His nimble, grinning five-piece band backed Kahan with acoustic guitar, fiddle, banjo, keyboards and very understated electric guitar. They even occasionally broke out some rudimentary dance moves that, coupled with the generally carefree aura, did feel at odds with Kahan’s sometimes dark and introspective lyrics.

Much like Zach Bryan — with whom he collaborated on Bryan’s single “Sarah’s Place” — it’s obvious Kahan has forged a deep, personal connection with his listeners while largely bypassing casual listeners. Given that the songs all started to sound the same midway through the show, casual listeners probably aren’t missing much.

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